Ideology is the great unspoken truth of our cultural and political existence. Deeply ingrained in all of us we are almost always reticent to admit its influence and its impact upon us. Our language obfuscates shields and distracts us from acknowledging its presence – but occasionally the latent becomes explicit as ideology breaks forth into the text of our cultural discourse.
Case in point? The Daily Mail.
First, a little context – for those of you overseas, or not au fait with the United Kingdom, the south of the country is currently experiencing the kind of weather last survived by a man in a specifically proportioned boat and all of the animals he collected, two by two. The end result has been some of the worst flooding since records began across vast swathes of the south of England, causing the loss of homes, livelihoods and colossal damage to countless communities.
Into this context comes the above front page from the Daily Mail – ignoring the politics for the moment (covered by other more capable writers than myself) it is worth analysing the cover itself because the opportunities to see the ideology of the Mail unobstructed by its over engorged rhetoric is really rather useful.
Firstly, the Mail claims to be the representatives of the hard working, middle class and aspirational average Brit (much like the stoic family in the picture) yet all this cover proves is that the Daily Mail is fully on the side of late capitalism. Allow me to explain, proponents of capitalism usually defend it from criticism by minimising it to merely a system of economics not any kind of ‘totalising ideology,’ (to borrow a pithy phrase from Marx) but this simply isn’t the case. Faced with a specifically environmental disaster the front cover claims that, in effect, Britain can no longer afford foreign aid.
Now, it’s the implications and unspoken parts of the cover where things get interesting. The Slovenian Marxist theorist Slavoj Žižek claims that capitalism has now built into the process of individual consumption the very means of that acts redemption – by buying fair trade coffee we manage to ameliorate our own sense of consumerist guilt and make consumption an ethical act that is gratifying to our egos. Capitalism is now so slick, so efficient and so ingrained as the dominant ideological force that we now buy things to undo the damage caused by capitalism. And this happens so seamlessly we cannot even spot the irony.
I’d propose that the Daily Mail is the perfect example of what Zizek is talking about on a national, rather than personal level. Our foreign aid budget is, to the Mail, not an ethical obligation or duty to our fellow humans but the egoistic redemption for the success of British capitalism at the expense of that far distant ‘Other.’
The environmental disaster becomes an economic burden and so we can no longer support the spending of money on something as ephemeral and mildly heart-warming as ‘foreign aid.’
The direct and political nature of the appeal is not just a cynical bit of grubby politics but manages to act as a shield for capitalism too. The cover makes a naked and direct appeal to the national wallet, claiming that what will fix this environmental disaster is the application of capital – capital that we have been collectively squandering through the naivety of charity. The impetus is on immediate ACTION. We have to put the British victims FIRST and do so FAST.
What we mustn’t do is pause and think. We mustn’t question what role capitalism has played in the complex factors that brought this flooding about. Urban expansionism, climate change, the costs of river management and the effects of pollution are all directly tied to this nations capitalist ideology and it’s this capitalism that is held up as the solution to the environmental problems it is complicit in.
Ultimately then, the cover proves that the Mail couldn’t care less about the victims of the flood. It cares only for the flow of capital that subordinates all other concerns to a system that inflicts damage not just to those we donate ‘foreign aid’ to, but also those same British flood victims.